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River Boat Cruise Through Europe: Our Best Vacation Ever

Updated on March 14, 2013

River Cruising Through Europe

Relaxed traveling, something to do every day, personal attention, and no crowds -- what more could we ask for?

Two summers ago we cruised on a river boat from Amsterdam to Vienna. The 13-day trip was our hands-down absolute best vacation ever!

Our ship traveled the breathtaking Rhine, Main, and Danube rivers. We navigated locks that took our ship over the European continental divide.

Every day brought a new port of call, a new city with an English-speaking tour guide, all complimentary. We walked through the cathedral of Cologne and the ruins of Heidelberg castle. We explored Regensberg at the mouth of the Danube -- the picture at left is the Regensberg bridge built in the 12th century.

Are you tired of fighting crowds on large ocean cruise ships? Would you like to visit Europe but don't want to check into a series of new hotels every day? You might want to do what we did and try a river tour.

[All images taken by me unless otherwise noted.]

Our boat
Our boat

Why a River Cruise?

Throw away your ocean liner memories: it's a whole new experience

Before this trip I'd been to Europe a couple times for business but never had the time to look around. My husband hadn't been across the Atlantic at all.

We wanted to see a bit of Europe, but hated the idea of busing from place to place and having to unpack a suitcase in every new city. When I started searching the Internet I was surprised to come across the idea of a river cruise.

Cruising a river is completely different than ocean cruising.

First, the boats are WAY smaller. They're specially built to fit the width of canals built hundreds of years ago. River boats can't be too tall either, or they won't fit under centuries-old bridges. Our boat (the Uniworld River Duchess) holds a whopping 134 passengers. By the end of the cruise we'd made several new friends that we still keep in touch with to this day.

A walking tour at each stop (and EVERY day had a stop) was provided at no extra charge. The boat had bicycles you could borrow to use onshore. Not in the mood for a tour? No problem -- just explore the neighborhood at your leisure.

Unlike the ocean liners there wasn't a 24-hour buffet -- but the three meals daily (plus afternoon tea) were exceptional and you could eat as much as you wanted at each. We were afraid our American stomachs would be hungry but that was never an issue.

Because the whole experience was more intimate, we got to know the staff as well. I only took a couple days for our favorite waiter to automatically know I'd want tea with dinner. The concierge was able to call us by name. It felt like staying in a luxury hotel.

We Started in Amsterdam

City park near our hotel
City park near our hotel

We flew to Amsterdam a couple days before the cruise started, to give ourselves time to recuperate from jet lag. I had enough Hilton points from business travel to get us a room near the Amsterdam's city park.

More Amsterdam Pictures

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Walking near of the canals in downtown AmsterdamTaking a canal tourStopping for ice cream!
Walking near of the canals in downtown Amsterdam
Walking near of the canals in downtown Amsterdam
Taking a canal tour
Taking a canal tour
Stopping for ice cream!
Stopping for ice cream!

The Scenery From our Boat - Our cruise begins

As we leave Amsterdam
As we leave Amsterdam

As we left Amsterdam we began a slow, relaxing trip through Germany and Austria. From the river we saw farmland, cities, castle ruins, and vinyards. Every day was a new vista.

Countryside and Castles - Views from our boat

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A relaxing afternoon as we head to our next destination.Another centuries-old castleOne of many castles along the RhineThis reminds me of a fairy tale story.Vinyards in Germany
A relaxing afternoon as we head to our next destination.
A relaxing afternoon as we head to our next destination.
Another centuries-old castle
Another centuries-old castle
One of many castles along the Rhine
One of many castles along the Rhine
This reminds me of a fairy tale story.
This reminds me of a fairy tale story.
Vinyards in Germany
Vinyards in Germany

Packing for a two-week trip

Any cruise vacation (river or ocean) means needing to travel light and pack well. I travel so much for business that I already had most of what we needed. Here's a few must-haves for long international trips.

Kiva Travel Gear Clothesline
Kiva Travel Gear Clothesline

I won't vacation without this clothesline. Tuck the ends of your hand-washes into the weave, hook the handles on the doorknob and shower head, and let your clothes dry. The weave design is brilliant.

 
Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Half Cube, Pacific Blue
Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Half Cube, Pacific Blue

Eagle makes the best packing cubes. I use three sizes for long vacations. Many clothes items wrinkle much less if you roll them up instead of fold -- and you'll be able to fit more into your suitcase!

 
Waterpik Ultra Cordless Plus Water Flosser WP450 1 ea
Waterpik Ultra Cordless Plus Water Flosser WP450 1 ea

If you're traveling more than a few days it's worth remembering to take care of your teeth We bring our travel waterpik with us on vacation and are always glad to have it -- especially after a steak dinner.

 

Exploring Cologne

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Our ship docked in Cologne.You're supposed to rub his nose for luck.Some of the details on Cologne CathedralCologne Cathedral -- amazingExcavation of a roman ruin found in Cologne
Our ship docked in Cologne.
Our ship docked in Cologne.
You're supposed to rub his nose for luck.
You're supposed to rub his nose for luck.
Some of the details on Cologne Cathedral
Some of the details on Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral -- amazing
Cologne Cathedral -- amazing
Excavation of a roman ruin found in Cologne
Excavation of a roman ruin found in Cologne

Going Under Bridges

Some of the bridges are so low the captain has to lower the wheelhouse and pop his head up through a little door.

Does River Cruising Appeal to You?

Would you like to take a river cruise through Europe?

See results

Rothenburg

Rothenburg entrance
Rothenburg entrance

Rothenburg (technically Rothenburg ob der Tauber) was one of my favorite places to explore. This medieval town is incredibly well preserved. The castle was first built in 1070, and has expanded since then. This is the entrance to the town.

More of Rothenburg

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Museum of torture -- we didn't go in.Exploring a dungeon.One of the homes within the town walls.  I'd love to see how the rooms are shaped.Hell's Door restaurant.  Yes, you can literally knock on hell's door here.Standing near the castle garden.
Museum of torture -- we didn't go in.
Museum of torture -- we didn't go in.
Exploring a dungeon.
Exploring a dungeon.
One of the homes within the town walls.  I'd love to see how the rooms are shaped.
One of the homes within the town walls. I'd love to see how the rooms are shaped.
Hell's Door restaurant.  Yes, you can literally knock on hell's door here.
Hell's Door restaurant. Yes, you can literally knock on hell's door here.
Standing near the castle garden.
Standing near the castle garden.

Heidelberg Castle

As you can see by now, we explored a LOT of castles and towns on this trip. Heidelberg castle was another favorite. This is the view of Heidelberg from the castle walls.

Want to learn more?

These books and videos are great ways to learn more about river cruises.

Regensberg, Linz, and Vienna

Click thumbnail to view full-size
One of the many (many!) large buildings in ViennaThe Vienna national library.  Yes, this really is a library -- amazing.View from Linz pilgrimage churchOne of the painted ceilings in the Vienna library.A lovely courtyard garden in Regensberg
One of the many (many!) large buildings in Vienna
One of the many (many!) large buildings in Vienna
The Vienna national library.  Yes, this really is a library -- amazing.
The Vienna national library. Yes, this really is a library -- amazing.
View from Linz pilgrimage church
View from Linz pilgrimage church
One of the painted ceilings in the Vienna library.
One of the painted ceilings in the Vienna library.
A lovely courtyard garden in Regensberg
A lovely courtyard garden in Regensberg

This is the video that convinced us - After watching this video, we knew we were ready to book a trip.

Affiliate Disclosure

Bsalas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

What's your favorite vacation? - We'd love to hear from you

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    • gadifi lm profile image

      gadifi lm 4 years ago

      this is a great lens, great information thanks for sharing this with us

    • ArtByLinda profile image

      Linda Hoxie 4 years ago from Idaho

      This really looks like a wonderful place to visit, thanks for sharing. Not sure I have a favorite yet.

    • weakbond profile image

      Nnadi bonaventure Chima 4 years ago from Johanesburg

      What a fantastic experience you had . Thanks for sharing

    • bluewren56 lm profile image

      bluewren56 lm 4 years ago

      I have my first river cruise coming up in a couple of months.... can't wait. So excited!

    • Paladins profile image

      Paladins 4 years ago

      Looks like anyone would have a blast traveling this way. I can't wait to book a trip!

    • Jogalog profile image

      Jogalog 4 years ago

      I love to have active holidays and go to new places. It sounds like you had a great holiday and a boat is a great place to see places from.

    • Ben Reed profile image

      Ben Reed 4 years ago

      I love the images shown here - just great.

    • JohnZh LM profile image

      Johnathan K 4 years ago

      Beautiful, I hope I have the chance one day.

      Best regards!

    • fifta profile image

      fifta 4 years ago

      Beautiful pictures. I always thrilled when the boat is passing under the bridge. It's so fascinating, not only for kids, but also adults

    • RazzbarryBreeze profile image

      RazzbarryBreeze 4 years ago

      I would love to visit Europe one day. Beautiful lens.. Have a wonderful day!

    • profile image

      willoconner 4 years ago

      Its my dream to visit Europe and planning to visit there within next few months!!!:-)

    • Toytasting LM profile image

      Toytasting LM 4 years ago

      Looks beautiful ... Great pictures! Makes me want to plan my next vacation. I could really use one now

    • RitaAnne profile image

      RitaAnne 4 years ago

      Love the photos taken... interesting places to visit too... definitely in my places to visit list... and thanks for sharing your great vacation ;)

    • CommanderNicole profile image

      CommanderNicole 4 years ago

      Looks like a blast. I'd love to do this one day.

    • PhilVardy profile image

      PhilVardy 4 years ago

      I'm sure the smaller boats make for a more intimate cruise... a nice change from the massive boats on the ocean!

    • eilval profile image

      Eileen 4 years ago from Western Cape , South Africa

      Looks absolutely stunning with beautiful pictures .

    • EliasZanetti LM profile image

      EliasZanetti LM 4 years ago

      Beautiful lens and great pictures! Cruising seems as a fantastic way to travel.

    • mcspocky lm profile image

      mcspocky lm 4 years ago

      I just wanted to let you know I added this lens to my lens of the day. :)

      http://www.squidoo.com/favorite-lens-of-the-day

    • roseambrose profile image

      roseambrose 4 years ago

      Wonderful photos. I would love to do a river cruise one day

    • lewisgirl profile image

      lewisgirl 4 years ago

      We have been thinking about doing a river cruise. I definately want to go now.

    • mcspocky lm profile image

      mcspocky lm 4 years ago

      I love this lens and all the wonderful photos. Very well done!

    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 4 years ago from Diamondhead

      My favorite vacation is on the beach where the weather is warm and the drinks are cold.

    • profile image

      fifinn 4 years ago

      beautiful river.

    • jc stone profile image

      Jordan 4 years ago

      I love going to the beach.The Outer Banks. Photos make the lens!

    • rattie lm profile image

      rattie lm 4 years ago

      What I like about these tours is that you actually get back onto land each day. For me that is important. Everyone I know who has done this trip, swears by it.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      I love taking a cruise. Your vacation idea sounds like so much fun.

    • ruthlspurgeon profile image

      ruthlspurgeon 4 years ago

      I'd heard about river boats in the English canals. I didn't know you could do it through Europe. What a great idea of a trip. I'm jealous.

    • worldflashpacker profile image

      worldflashpacker 4 years ago

      Sound amazing, travelling by boat is such an incredible way to tour.

    • chocochipchip profile image

      chocochipchip 4 years ago

      Fun Tour

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Your river tour of Europe sounds amazing and just the right choice for a lot of wonderful experiences along the way while being restfully on the water and not having to lug around all your belongings. It sounds like almost a dream to wake up and know you were going to have something good each and every day....now that's joy in the journey. I think you are wetting a lot of appetites here, congratulations on home page honors!

    • profile image

      rickharvey-nz 4 years ago

      Your comments about Rothenburg bring back very fond memories for me. Just over 18 months ago my partner Lyn and I, along with a couple of friends toured Europe by motorcycle and we rode trhough Rothenburg which is on Germany's famous Romantic Road which runs from Fussen in the south to Wurzburg in the north. We joined the road at Ausberg and left it at Wurzburg before heading east. Rothernburg is without a doubt one of the major highlights of the Romantic Road - an awesome wee town. I only wish we had had more time to stop and explore.

    • masz09 profile image

      masz09 4 years ago

      My most favorite vacation is beijing. I haven't been vacating out of my country much, so, reading from your experienced, really amazed me. I wonder how much is the cost.

    • alina nicoleta92 profile image

      alina nicoleta92 4 years ago

      Such an awesome lens and the pictures were really great. A trip to Vienna sounds amazing:)

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 4 years ago

      Our trip to Spain along the coast was my favorite.

    • writerkath profile image

      writerkath 4 years ago

      We're beginning to think of one of these for ourselves! Can't wait!

    • stennajohns profile image

      stennajohns 4 years ago

      What a awesome lens! Amazing pics!

    • robertzimmerman2 profile image

      Robert Zimmerman 4 years ago from SE Florida, USA

      We just returned from Hawaii, that was great. I would love to visit Europe and I think this type of cruise is fantastic!

    • Keeah profile image

      Keeah 4 years ago

      I have yet to see Europe, I think you've sold me on how to do it.

    • profile image

      webscribbler 4 years ago

      We've somehow managed to get on the mailing lists for some of these river cruises. We've never been on any sort of cruise but if we were ever lucky enough to cruise, it would definitely be a river cruise. How are the room sizes? Obviously one spends very little time in their rooms but do you have to be a contortionist to use the facilities or sleep on what amounts to twin beds?

    • Michelllle profile image

      Michelllle 4 years ago

      Bali. We biked around the island.

    • Laurabpeterson profile image

      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      What a great lens! I love the pictures. Would love to travel this way! It sounds heavenly!

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 4 years ago

      I was in Vienna for business and saw one of these river cruises come through, as I sat at a 1,000 year old vineyard. I was sold. Beautiful article.

    • HSP Connections profile image

      Peter Messerschmidt 4 years ago from Port Townsend, WA, USA

      Wow-- what a beautiful lens-- thanks for sharing your journey! I'm originally from Denmark, but I never really spent that much time just "exploring" Europe; this was very cool to see.

    • itravel2004 lm profile image

      itravel2004 lm 4 years ago

      Great article and I believe that you really enjoy the trip

    • sockii profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 4 years ago from New Jersey

      My favorite vacation to date was my last trip to Venice and the surrounding area for two weeks. However I know people who have done the riverboat cruise before and loved it! You really did a nice job of taking the reader on a journey with you.

    • Fcuk Hub profile image

      Fcuk Hub 4 years ago

      Vienna, one of the most romantic city in Europe.

    • petertraoassi2 profile image

      petertraoassi2 4 years ago

      Love Europa! Thanks.

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 4 years ago

      I've been on a tour of Europe but by train would love to go by boat

    • nick-gondoras profile image

      nick-gondoras 4 years ago

      Atlantic City NJ for the ocean and Bismarck, ND for the river!

    • profile image

      JeffSawyer 4 years ago

      Nice lens.Thanks for sharing it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Cool Stuff! I really like your lens.

    • DvdMovieGirl profile image

      DvdMovieGirl 4 years ago

      I like the idea of a river cruise and have enjoyed reading your lens. Great photographs here too.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      To date my favorite was Iceland. This sounds great though. I have been wondering about the river cruises I see advertised. This is great information.

    • FB-Explorer profile image

      FB-Explorer 4 years ago

      This is a wonderful lens!

    • Ninche profile image

      Ninche 4 years ago

      I love to travel too....this sounds like great vacation!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Many in the family would love to do this. We have looked at some of these river boats and there's one small enough for our family. Thanks for this info.

    • InfoCoop profile image

      InfoCoop 4 years ago

      You've captured it beautifully! As an American, we think a building from the the Revolutionary War period is old. A cruise through the Rhine Gorge with all its medieval castles quickly reminds us just how young our nation still is.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 4 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      We went on a river cruise up the Rhine from Basel, Switzerland through Germany, Holland and ending in Belgium. We had many of the same stops you had. It was absolutely wonderful...such a great way to see Europe. Thanks for the memories. blessed.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 4 years ago

      What a nice way to casually see things.

    • Ardyn25 profile image

      Ardyn25 4 years ago

      What an awesome journey you took, I would love to do this someday. Your photos are amazing and you sure got to see a lot. I've never really thought about a riverboat cruise before, thanks for sharing this!

    • profile image

      MissMalaprop 4 years ago

      A friend was recently telling me about the riverboat cruise he went on in Europe this past winter. It was around Christmas time, but apparently the water was very high, and they were having trouble making it down the rivers, because the high water made it impossible for the boat to pass under bridges. They weren't able to complete the cruise as planned, unfortunately. So I guess the time of year is important for this type of trip!

    • Mr Criminology profile image

      Bigwas 4 years ago from Philippines

      I have never been to Europe but it looks beautiful.

    • bsalas lm profile image
      Author

      bsalas lm 4 years ago

      @WhiteRoses1: I've been there twice for work and once for vacation. It's a lovely town and has some exceptional art museums.

    • bsalas lm profile image
      Author

      bsalas lm 4 years ago

      @Camden1: It's a great way to tour. We loved our experience on Uniworld (though I hear good things about Viking as well). It was like having a floating luxury hotel that followed us through the countryside.

    • bsalas lm profile image
      Author

      bsalas lm 4 years ago

      @jolou: It's a completely different experience than big-boat cruising. We enjoy those as well, but loved the river cruise.

    • bsalas lm profile image
      Author

      bsalas lm 4 years ago

      @jitmone: Thanks! A river cruise is a great way to experience different parts of Europe. We want to do it again.

    • profile image

      briancdrury 4 years ago

      Beautiful pictures, very well done!

    • WhiteRoses1 profile image

      WhiteRoses1 4 years ago

      I was in Amsterdam and it is a beautiful city, I can't wait to visit it again.

    • Camden1 profile image

      Camden1 4 years ago

      I've always wanted to go on a European river cruise - it sounds like a wonderful way to tour!

    • profile image

      timetoact 4 years ago

      Great scenery. You make the river cruise sound very appealing.

    • jolou profile image

      jolou 4 years ago

      Your trip sounds absolutely wonderful, and I love your photos. I have been on a regular cruise before, but not a river cruise. It sounds lovely and intimate and something I would love to do sometime.

    • jitmone profile image

      jitmone 4 years ago

      Great article! I always wanted to go to Europe to visit one day.

    • kabbalah lm profile image

      kabbalah lm 4 years ago

      I happen to enjoy Israel the most